Gerald Lee Jordan MBA, MEd, MCouns

Labelling As Power


When another labels you, be it a therapist or someone else, this attempt to label is a function of power, a form of control.

Control of Therapist

We may understand this statement within - say - a racist context. The person labelling you is trying to humiliate or otherwise control you, but what about within therapy? Traditional therapeutic paradigms attempt to "understand" by fitting the client into current models - social and therapeutic. These labels confine the client within "norms", emphasising the aspects of self which fit into the norms and minimising or ignoring those aspects of self which do not fit into the label.

These labels allow the therapist to treat the client as a symptom, a condition or something else that can be "easily" understood, controlled or manipulated. These labels minimise the experiences and individuality of the person seeking help.

Loss of Personal Control

When the person defers to the labels of another, she or he gives up power - power to define self and power to create self. While these labels can provide temporary relief from individual responsibility and choice - in effect deferring an existential crisis - they limit the options of the person seeking to overcome problems and evolve.

Keeping Power With The Client

How can this power be minimised within the therapeutic relationship? Attempt to understand the experience of the client, rather than trying to fit it into a predetermined paradigm. Realise that the client is the expert in his or her own life (a central tenet of Narrative Therapy). Learn to sit with the ambiguity of the lives of others, without forcing experience into narrow preconceptions.

For many, this loss of control is unsettling and means recreating their relationships with others. The benefits - both within the therapeutic relationship and within wider social interactions - are well worth the initial discomfort.